Wednesday, June 16, 2010

SUN TV News: A Conservative Opinion

Okay , say you’re Quebecor media czar Pierre Karl Peladeau. Whoops, I just vomited in my mouth. (Half full disclosure: I was once fired by Pierre Karl Peladeau.)
Your crummy little Toronto TV station has never made a dime and lost an estimated $8.8 million last year. You’ve long since lost interest in the venture as any glance at the moribund schedule will attest.
It seemed like a good idea cracking the Toronto market a few years ago but the money now is all over on the specialty side. So you cook up a plan: make lots of noise about launching a new Canadian right wing news network. Always with the firm grasp of the obvious, you call it Sun TV News.
You need the CRTC to take back your loser conventional licence and grant you access to the full carriage fee money tap which would be a category 1 specialty licence, so you wrap yourself in the Canadian flag.
Which is what PKP did Tuesday at a press conference held in a portion of a building which was once all owned by the Toronto Sun.
Mr. Peladeau threw down a challenge to the CRTC, asking for this new news licence to wake up the old guard news guys in English Canada. He pointed out that more people watch CNN in Canada than the CBC or CTV news networks (which, by the way, is true when oil is spilling into the gulf but not so true when actual news is happening in Canada). “They’re opting out or switching over,” Mr Peladeau said “That’s not good for Canadian television. It’s not good for Canadian democracy. And it’s not good for Canada itself.”
What--suddenly he’s a Canadian nationalist? Back when Quebecor was kicking the tires during their first sniff at The Sun, Peladeau’s dad Pierre was branded a “closet Separatist” by former Sun columnist Allan Fotheringham. Now Peladeau Junior is standing up for Canadian democracy. Zut alors.
And he wants to do it by aping the most (ugly) American TV invention of them all, right wing pundit television. Where was this zeal to save Canada all this time he has been importing U.S. garbage like Dave’s World and Caroline in the City daily on SUN TV? Hell, for another (American) buck, NBC-Universal would have thrown in Veronica’s Closet.
But, okay, it’s still a free country, knock yourself out. But category 1? No way. The CRTC has already said they’re not doling out any more of these free, everybody-must-carry-this-station passes. Go ahead, give up your coveted channel 15 spot on the dial but the best you’re looking at is category 2. Now work your own deal to latch on somewhere with Shaw, Rogers and Bell and don’t bet it won’t be on channels of three digits or higher.
Still, the pitch has caught a few headlines and a buzz has begun. With the right money and marketing behind it, everybody will bundle you with CNN, CBC NN, MSNBC, and, yes, Fox News, which, by the way, NOBODY watches in Canada. (It's not even carried on the cable system Peladeau owns, Videotron.)
The next problem: It’s usually a good idea to prove you can handle one successful hour long newscast before getting into the 24-hour TV news business. The folks out west at Craig built fancy sets and hired a few local news names when they charged ahead with Toronto1 not that many years ago. They hit the wall within days, some would say minutes. The resources simply were not there, and everything got tossed on The Grill Room.
CHCH in Hamilton is proving it can be done, however, with hard work and integrity. The heritage station is gamely making a go of it with an all-day all-news format, one that is local and community based. They built on the news strengths they already had and have had success pulling supper hour viewers in the highly competitive GTA market.
By hiring a former Stephen Harper spin doctor as his news network point man, Peladeau smells an opportunity to take a right wing shortcut to the top of the Canadian cable news heap. “Quebecor sees an untapped market opportunity in English Canadian TV news,” says PKP. “We see an opportunity in offering Canadians something new, something better, something distinct.”
Make no mistake—Quebecor sees an opportunity to make money. They want in on the carriage fee cash flow. But they’ll have to spend a lot—more than the $100 million over five years they’ve already pledged—to produce a Canadian version of Fox News. Maybe if he asks nicely, the folks at the Sun newspapers will contribute content to the new venture. Mr. Peladeau can be very persuasive.
Who ever gets behind this venture, they would do well to heed the example of recent attempts to export the dumbassification of U.S. culture directly into the Great White North. Canwest thought that E! brand would sell itself. It didn`t. CTV had high expectations for all that MTV programming. So last decade.
If SUN TV News thinks Fox News North will be a tea party, they might want to wake up and smell the Tim Hortons.
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